Are you "un-coachable"?

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about a top-level Olympic athlete in one of our much-loved endurance sports.

That athlete emerged on the scene a few years ago and dominated the sport during her first 18 months as a "pro".

Since then however, she has all but disappeared: her performances have been very poor, and despite working with multiple coaches, she doesn't seem capable of getting back to her best (or anywhere near her best).

By comparison, a compatriot of hers has been steadily climbing through the ranks, racking up consistent performances and improving every season.

My friend, who works closely with the sport's top organisational bodies, explained to me the "single biggest difference" between these 2 athletes: the one struggling is just "not coachable"! She had worked with a wide number of coaches of very different styles/approaches, but apparently failed with all of them.

This statement was an eye-opener for me!

Whether you're an entrepreneur, athlete, or just want to elevate your performance in different aspects of your life: no one is born with a full skill-set - we can all benefit from being "coached".

However the "coach - coachee" relationship is a two-way street: both parties need to have certain attributes for the relationship to work and for the benefits to materialise.

Even though I'm a coach, I'm also a "coachee": I always seek mentors and coaches to help me achieve my goals.


What makes someone "not coachable"

Believing they "know it all"

As a coach, I LOVE working with people who are avid readers and thirsty for knowledge. It makes my life easier, since I only have to "top off" what they already know.

However many people (myself included sometimes) "assume" they have sufficient and "accurate" knowledge about a certain topic.

Remember that while we do accumulate tons of knowledge from external sources, your coach is constantly working with a wide variety of people, and thus has "hands-on" experience in what works and what doesn't work, depending on each individual's personal characteristics.

In my experience, there is NO method that works for ALL people, whether it's in the world of sports, entrepreneurship, or relationships: some tools work for some people while failing miserably with others.

A coach accumulates that knowledge and a good coach will adapt your "training" in the way that suits you best. You won't find that knowledge in any particular book or research paper.

Losing trust in the process too soon

That's also a common obstacle towards a successful coaching relationship.

A good foundation begins with the coach explaining the expected outcome of the process, especially in relation to the "timing to see benefits".

Whether it's in the world of athletics, executive coaching or relationship coaching: we cannot fall prey to the modern curse of "instant gratification" - we need to accept and "believe" that the only way for us to obtain impactful and sustainable results is through "long-term consistency".

In my opinion, the minimum commitment you should undertake before you decide whether a coaching relationship is yielding the results you're looking for or not is 6 months - it just takes at least this long for you and your coach to get to know each other, for your coach to get to adapt the coaching to YOUR specific characteristics, and most importantly, for the training to yield results.

Looking for short-term "quick" results

In the same vein: we live in a world of "instant gratification", where we want things NOW!!!

The "marshmallow study" (a major psychological study) revealed 2 things: 

(i) the majority of people would rather sacrifice "long-term benefits" for the sake of "immediate / short-term pleasure"; and

(ii) the ones who "resist" the temptation and focus on "long-term benefits" end up more successful in their lives, across health, fitness, career, as well as relationships.

You cannot expect your coach to do miracles: I've had people contact me looking to lose 5kg in ONE WEEK for a wedding. While I am well versed in methods to accomplish that (as unbelievable as it may sound), I NEVER tell people about them because of the long-term health risks they carry.

Don't expect your coach to accomplish miracles.

Not providing feedback

This is one of my personal pet peeves: I am unable to fine-tune and personalize the coaching that I provide people with if I don't get frequent feedback. 

As I mentioned earlier: no single tool works for all people, and the best training is "personalized training".

As I always tell everyone I work with: "communicate, communicate, communicate!".

Not sharing responsibility 

We are human beings, not computers. Your coach is not sitting in front of a laptop and success is not determined by his/her keystrokes.

For example: I've seen situations where fitness coaching failed because the client was severely under stress at home. You cannot expect your body to respond to fitness training when you're psychologically stressed, or when your sleep is suffering.

Before I decided to "self-coach" for triathlon, I worked with 3 different coaches with mixed results. I don't believe any of the 3 was a "bad coach". 2 of them just weren't the "right coach for me", while the 3rd just happened to work with someone whose life was a "mess".

Before you decide whether to hire a coach or not, and before you decide to terminate a coaching relationship, ask yourself this: "am I failing to achieve results because of the coaching or something else"?

Subconsciously seeking validation not coaching

That's a biggy, especially in the executive coaching & relationship coaching worlds.

Many "Type A" successful individuals with "big" personalities go into coaching seeking "validation" for what they are already doing. They're looking for an ego boost.

If you're considering a coach, it's because you believe something is not working. Let go of your preconceptions and get into the relationship with an open mind. Trust the process, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel.


Again and to sum up: the responsibility should be shared: as a coach, I've made plenty of mistakes, and I have to take the blame for some failures. I would like to think that I'm learning from these mistakes and using them for the benefit of future clients.

At the same time, the "coachee" has to shoulder some of the responsibility as well, and I hope this article helps you become "more coachable", and as such allows you to achieve better / sustainable results.

Good luck!